Among series like 7th Heaven and That '70s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer stood out as a tidal wave in an ocean cataloging the hurtles of adolescence. Full of supernatural thrills, sharp dialogue, and the indelible bond of friendship, BtVS was a unique program among the crop of '90s programs for teens; it never belittled their intelligence even as it specialized in kitschy horror and maudlin soap opera romance. Somehow creator Joss Whedon had developed a series that used the horror genre as a metaphor for the tribulations of growing up, and it worked.
It chronicled Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her friends (the "Scooby Gang") as they battled against all manner of vampires, demons, and forces of darkness that gravitated to the small town of Sunnydale, CA. As they went through high school graduation, first jobs, first kisses, and first kills, we shared in their triumphs and their losses. As much as Buffy and her friends made us cheer, their exploits also made us reach for a box of tissues. Here are 10 times the show broke our hearts.
10 ANGELUS KILLING JENNY
Giles may have been a proper Brit and kept his love life private, but it didn’t mean he’d never been in love. In the first few seasons of Buffy, Giles was romantically involved with Jenny, and when Buffy’s lover Angelus broke her neck like a twig, it destroyed Gile’s love life irrevocably. It not only proved that the good part of Angel was gone, it also meant the end of Giles’ happiness.
Giles, understandably stricken with grief, tried to attack Angelus, but couldn’t stand against the feral vampire. Though he’d have gladly sacrificed himself to avenge the woman he loved, Buffy arrived just in time, and apologized for not being able to kill Angel before Giles lost everything.
9 ANGELUS RIDICULING BUFFY'S FIRST TIME
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was known as a series that balanced supernatural challenges with the real world challenges of adolescence, often using the former as a metaphor for the latter. In the gut wrenching plot of “Innocence”, Buffy and Angel have become intimate for the first time, in a night of passion that is the most important of the young Slayer’s life.
Unfortunately for her, Angelus has taken over the better parts of Angel, and he subsequently destroys her memories from the evening, tearing it apart in with condescending belittlement before simply smirking, “I’ll call you.”. After she is so demeaned, she can’t even enjoy the birthday celebration her mother gives her on her seventeen birthday, as she acknowledges she is no longer a child, in more ways than one.
8 BUFFY BEING FORCED TO KILL ANGEL
Like some of the great love stories of history, Angel’s and Buffy’s was doomed from the beginning. A vampire and the Chosen One could never be, however hard they tried. After Buffy and Angel are intimate, he loses his soul in a cruel twist of fate, and his vampire persona Angelus takes over. Having been kicked out of her house and expelled from school, Buffy is forced to make the biggest decision of her life at the worst time.
Angelus has opened a portal to suck Sunnydale into the Hellmouth, and Buffy must kill him to stop it. Unfortunately, Willow’s spell turns him human for just the moments before his death. Buffy is able to kiss her true love once before plunging a sword into his heart.
7 THE AFTERMATH OF JOYCE SUMMERS' DEATH
Though viewers had some time to prepare for the passing of Joyce Summers, when it happened suddenly it was still a punch to the gut. Buffy’s mom had gone from kicking her out of the house for being the Slayer, to becoming the den mother of the entire Scooby Gang over five seasons.
In “The Body”, Buffy and Co. are faced with the aftermath of Joyce’s death from a brain aneurysm. Picking up right after Buffy finds her body on the couch, it includes the call to the ambulance, the funeral arrangements, and all the mundane aspects of death. Drawing from Joss Whedon’s own experience of losing his mother, it ends with a moving focus on the complexities of the grieving process.
6 WHEN BUFFY ADMITS SHE WAS HAPPIER DEAD
While fans may have been happy that the Scooby Gang was able to bring Buffy back from the dead, it wasn’t so easy for the Slayer herself. She chose to sacrifice herself for Dawn and her friends - she didn’t choose to come back, and the truth about Buffy’s internal struggle with being back in the land of the living comes to light in “Once More With Feeling”.
When Xander uses a talisman to invoke a demon who causes his victims to sing about their darkest truths, Buffy reveals to her friends in song that by bringing her back, they ripped her from Heaven, which complicates their friendship with an extreme amount of guilt.
5 WHEN BUFFY ADMITS TO TARA ABOUT HER AND SPIKE
Though Spike and Buffy fluctuated between being enemies and begrudging allies, Spike came to understand Buffy in a way that no one else could in Season 5. The only other person she was close to who could possibly know what it was like to crawl out of his own grave, they bonded over the miserable torment of existence.
Buffy has been in agony ever since the Scooby Gang brought her back from the dead ( removing her from the plane she believed to be Heaven), and her self-hatred drives her into a destructive romantic relationship with Spike. She finally admits it to Tara, collapsing into her arms in tears, begging her friend not to forgive her until she can forgive herself.
4 XANDER LEAVING ANYA AT THE ALTAR
Xander and Anya were always an unlikely pair, but his lovable goofiness and her blunt candor complemented one another. Fans therefore weren’t surprised that Xander and Anya decided to get married in “Hell’s Bells”, but they were surprised when Xander left Anya at the altar.
Xander had been given a vision of their future together by a demon, which revealed that they would grow to despise each other like his own parents, with her cheating on him and he nearly striking her with a frying pan. He was expected to meet her at the altar soon after this, something he couldn’t bare to do, thinking it was better for both of them, leaving her to tell the guests the wedding was off.
3 WHEN SPIKE GOT HIS SOUL
While Spike going to get his soul might have seemed like an Angel-lite storyline, it made the bad-boy character a lot more complex. When he received his soul after a multitude of trials, it made him go insane, and when Buffy saw him again, he was a shadow of his former self, pathetic and de-fanged.
Buffy wanted nothing to do with Spike after their last encounter when he nearly violated her; he wasn’t even worthy of her pity. But in “Beneath You”, the two finally got to have a heart to heart at a church, and Spike expressed the turmoil over his actions. He explained his anguish over failing so spectacularly at only ever wanting to make himself into the sort of man that she would choose.
2 TARA'S DEATH
Though the Trio weren’t exactly an intimidating Big Bad in Season 6, the danger lay in their desperation. When Warren confronts Buffy and Xander with a gun, it’s the act of a cornered animal. When he fires, it strikes Buffy but ricochets into an upstairs window, inadvertently striking Tara while she’s spending time with Willow.
Not only is it heartbreaking that Tara dies so randomly, but her death comes at a time when she’s only recently reconciled with Willow. All she can say before she drops to the ground is how odd the blood splatter looks on Willow’s shirt. Her sudden death becomes the catalyst for Willow drawing upon her magic, amassing incredible dark powers to unleash her pain upon the world.
1 WHEN XANDER TALKS WILLOW DOWN FROM DESTROYING EVERYTHING
After Tara’s death, Willow went on a homicidal rage fueled by the powers of dark magic. She flayed Warren alive, and unleashed chaos on all of Sunnydale. The only chance of stopping her didn’t come from Buffy, or Giles (who she almost killed) but from Xander who, with no magical abilities of his own, talked her off the proverbial ledge.
In the Season 6 finale “Grave”, he had a quiet conversation with her just before she was about to end the world, reminding her about their friendship, and how he had grown to love the strange nerdy girl who was always so positive and loved crayons. She collapsed into tears, finally able to expel the grief she had from losing Tara.